Chapter Seven: Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Writing is Hard

Series Note: I am now working on updating each chapter and putting together this book, finally, after over 100,000 words that started back in 2009. So I am updating each chapter and putting it up here now for those who have not seen them.  One new updated chapter every few days will still take me all summer to finish. Feel free to make comments and talk about each topic.

And again, anyone who has donated over the years will get a free electronic version of the book when it is all done. Thanks again for the support!

Note: This chapter seven will be the end of Section #1: The Basic Myths, and so all seven chapters will be available shortly in electronic form in one book.


This myth comes in many forms and has many faces, but let me put it as plainly as I can to start.

Myth: To be Good, Writing Must Be Hard. (And it can’t be fun.)

Total hogwash, of course, yet it is stunning how many new writers believe this, and how readers, when they bother to think about it, believe the myth as well. And, of course, almost everyone who teaches creative writing in a university program believes this as well, and teaches the myth.

Where does this myth come from?

Answer: A thousand places, actually. But I think the best place to look first is at writers themselves.

Fiction writers are people who sit alone in a room and make up stuff. By its very nature, one of the easiest tasks ever given to a human being. But, alas, fiction writers are people who make stuff up, and thus, making stuff up doesn’t stop when our fingers leave the keys. We use words like “struggle” and “fought” in sentences describing the creation of a story. “I had to really struggle with that story.” Or “I fought that story into existence.”

Good, active writing. Who cares if the reality was you sat fairly still, in a comfortable chair, in a warm room, at a computer, and just made stuff up.

Don’t forget that we writers, by our nature, are drama queens, to say the least. Because our task is so easy and so much fun, we have to make it seem harder to those around us, and to ourselves, otherwise we get no credit for all the “hard work” we do every day.

Writers play up this myth of “hard work” so much, we actually start believing it ourselves at times. If nothing else, fiction writers are the masters of self-delusion.

A second place to look for why this myth exists is the culture of publishing.

One manuscript page is about 250 words. This post is now a distance past that number of words right here. So if I write one page, 250 words, I would be done writing in about 10-15 minutes. Sometimes quicker, sometimes longer. If I did that 10-15 minutes every day for one year, I would complete a 91,000 word novel, about a normal length paperback book.

Oh, yeah, that’s hard work, sitting silently for 15 minutes per day and moving my fingers. And the current culture would consider me a prolific writer if I did that every year for ten years. Heaven forbid I actually write 30 minutes per day and produce two books a year.

We writers have to really hide this math, and we have to really do a lot of drama to keep the world believing that working fifteen minutes a day typing is hard work. Stunning how good of a job we have done in this scam, isn’t it? As I said, we are masters of delusion, self-delusion, and just flat making stuff up.

Of course, there is always the “art” argument that comes flying in. Writers who want to hold onto the myth that writing is hard work talk a great deal about the “art” and the “craft” of what they do, especially out in public. And of course, see my rewriting chapters about that part of the myth. But the truth is, when we are really creating art, we are doing it from the back of our brains, typing fast, buried in the story.

How Did This Start?

In the beginning (I love starting a sentence like that), all writers struggled over simple sentences, meaning back in the early days of learning how to talk and write as kids, writing was hard for all of us. I went all the way through college avoiding any kind of class that forced me to do a paper or essay. I hated writing. It was just too hard. Much easier for me to do a multiple-choice test.

Most people never get past those early, almost basic memories. So we grow up thinking that someone who can write a story, an article, or heavens, an entire novel, have a special super power and are working really, really hard to write. Some selling writers I know actually still believe this.

And, of course, the pulp writers, pounding out thousands of words a day, actually were working hard on those manual typewriters. Go ahead, don’t believe me, try pounding out a single page on a manual typewriter as fast as you can. You’ll be covered in White Out and your arms will ache.

But sitting here in my perfect chair with perfect arm support, letting my fingers try to stay up with my old brain, I’m not doing much work. In fact, if I didn’t get out and do some exercise, some sort of movement in the real world, I would turn into a 500 pound blob with fingers. I was headed that way about three years ago. Now I’m down to 199 and still losing and exercising. That’s right, I have to get up and move away from the writing to do any real work or exercise.

Also, the early days of trying to learn how to tell stories is difficult and very frustrating. The people around you think you are wasting time, your family talks in worried whispers behind your back, your workshop hates everything you type, editors give you form rejections, and even your cat won’t go near your computer chair. Everything about learning how to write stories in the early professional days is hard. No argument.

The early days of trying to learn how to write professional-level fiction is an ugly extension and reminder of learning to write as a child. Very basic fear. It’s a wonder any of us ever learn how to write novels, now that I think about it.

And of course there’s Practice.

Don’t even mention that ugly word to writers. Writers, unlike any other brand of art, think they don’t need to practice. However, early days of trying to get published forces practice on all of us. No one buys our practice sessions and calls us brilliant, so we keep putting out stories and novels until someone does buy one.

Practice is hard work for the most part. Anyone who played a sport or a musical instrument knows this fact. So when writers are practicing in the early years, it is hard work.

Learning is uncomfortable by its very nature.

When you are learning something new, it makes all us uneasy, makes us want to return to the status quo of not knowing something new.

We all like stability, but when learning writing and the craft of storytelling, there is no stability. A writer is constantly trying something new, constantly on edge, constantly learning, and thus it feels hard and uncomfortable for years at a time.

That’s normal, just normal. And clearly not hard work, but because the learning and trying something new feels difficult, we think of it as hard work.

And this applies when we are struggling (nice word, huh?) through a story and it feels like it’s not coming together. That, we say to other writers, is working. We had to “work” at the story, the plotting into an unknown place felt uncomfortable, therefore it felt hard and if it feels hard, it therefore must have been work.

As I said, writers as great at self-delusion.

So the memory of working hard at writing still haunts all of us from our childhood. On my writing computer I have a short story to finish. But that feels like work, so I sit here at my internet computer, typing this instead. See, even I do it, still, after all the millions of words and over 100 plus traditionally published books.

So, as I do with every chapter in this book, let me try to outline in simple form where writing is actually hard, and where it isn’t hard.

Where writing is hard.

1) The business of writing is hard.

No argument there at all. And that business comes flowing into the writing. Thoughts about selling or not selling stop most writers at times. That makes the typing hard. Just dealing with the myths around agents can drive a writer to a nap very quickly. Cash flow, doing proofs, and everything about the business is hard.

2) Discipline is hard.

Just carving out time to write is hard. Really hard, actually. Especially in the early years when the feedback loop is so negative. Simply finding time to get to the computer is hard when day job, kids, and bills get in the way. That’s difficult for everyone and very hard work. The fun starts when you get to the chair with some time ahead, but getting there is hard work early on.

3) Writing more than six to eight hours a day is hard work.

I know, under deadlines, I have spent that many hours and many more at a computer. When you write for eight hours a day, you know you have physically worked at something. But fifteen minutes a day to write one novel a year. That’s not work. Write ten thousand words a day for a week and you will know real hard work in the area of writing.

Those are the only places I can think of that writing is actually difficult work.

Where writing is NOT hard.

1) Sitting in a chair for an hour or so a day, making up stuff, is not hard work.

It’s just not.

2) Coming up with story ideas and novel ideas is not hard work.

In fact, after a while, professional writers have far, far too many ideas to ever think about writing them all, and we are constantly coming up with new ideas every day. Coming up with story ideas actually becomes annoying because there are so many and it is so easy. (Fear of ideas not coming is something you learn your way past in the early days, the uncomfortable days. No worry.)

Where writing is just flat fun.

1) Sitting in a chair, making stuff up, while knowing that someone will pay you a lot of money for what you are making up.

Yup, that’s fun.

2) Knowing that the typing you are doing today might still be read and earning you and your kids money fifty years from now.

No other job I know of has that wonderful aspect to it. That’s fun.

3) Finishing and mailing or publishing stories is fun.

Some of you might call that work, the mailing process, but actually, it’s fun. (If you think of it as hard work, if the fear is trying to stop you, you have other issues to get past.) Every time you mail something, you are mailing potential, and that’s exciting.

And these days, when you spend the time to learn how to put a book or story up electronically and/or publish it in paper yourself, you will discover that seeing that story sell two days after your wrote it or holding that paper book in your hand is nothing but fun. Great fun.

As an attorney friend of mine once said, when he goes to work, he gets so much per hour and then goes home. When I go to work, finish a story and mail it or publish it, every day I have the chance of making a lot of money and being read by a lot of people and making money with what I did that day for decades to come. That’s exciting and fun.

4) I wrote that!

Yup, that’s fun, great deals of fun, simply saying to someone, “Yes, I wrote that.” I can’t begin to tell you how much fun it was a while back at a conference spending a good hour and a half signing books as fast as I could sign. I have an ego, just as anyone else, and trust me, that’s fun. Signing books for fans who love your work is not work. It’s an honor and a ton of fun.

5) The challenge of the business.

Nothing is easy about becoming and staying a professional fiction writer. The business, the push to continue, the dealing with money is never easy. But the challenge is great fun. If you aren’t the type of person that goes at something that seems impossible and says, “Oh, why not, let’s try,” then you might want to find another job to chase. If you feel that security is everything in your life, then go work for Enron. That should do the trick. But if you love challenges, there is no more fun challenge than this business.

Suggestions on how to make writing more fun.

1) Take the pressure off.

Simply put, this is not brain surgery. No life is in your hands other than some made-up characters. And you can kill them if you want, since you are God in your story. Take off the pressure.

2) Take stock of how you feel when you get up from a good writing session, where you finished pages.

Do you feel good, excited, happy? Most of us do, sort of like just coming off a good carnival ride. Remember that feeling when you go back to write the next session or the next day.

3) Make mailing manuscripts to editors or indie publishing them fun. Mailing and the game of trying to match the right manuscript with the right editor at the right house is fun. Frustrating at times, sure. But the more you make that part of things into just a game to keep as much writing on the market as you can, the more fun you will have and the less rejection will bother you. And indie publishing, for those of you who have not yet started because of fear, is just flat a joy. I would never be doing this crazy challenge of one hundred short stories in one year without indie publishing.

4) Stop calling your writing work.

Stop thinking of writing as a grind. Stop complaining to other writers all the time how bad the week was and how little you got done.


If you have an extra ten minutes, write something. If you are lucky and have a few hours, be excited about sitting down and exploring whatever world you are running around in with the story. Come at the writing with excitement, with expectations of fun, with delight.

As a mug I use for tea says on the side, “Attitude is everything.”

Over the years I have allowed myself to fall into some pretty nasty traps around the business of writing and writing itself.

I let myself forget how much fun it is.

I let myself believe that some writing was better than other types of writing.

I let myself think that it was better to not write than write.

I have managed to escape all the traps, but I was not immune to them by any means. Heck, I quit writing a half dozen times along the way.

That’s right, I figured the grass was always greener on the other side of some fence, so off I went to start a comic book store, or off I went to play professional poker, or off I went to try to play professional golf for a second time. And every time, at some point fairly quickly on those side roads, I realized I had left what I loved to do, that I had left the easiest job on the planet, and a job that paid the most.

I had left a job I really enjoyed.

So now I write for a living once again, and I enjoy it even more than I ever did. I have a challenge story to finish tonight. A brand new one. Am I going to work now?

Yeah, I suppose, since I make my living at my writing, I am going to “work” now.

But I sure ain’t complaining about how hard I work. Or how tough my job is.

I sit alone, in a room, and make stuff up. That’s my job description. I have, without a doubt, the easiest and best job in the world.

It is a giant myth that my job is hard work.


Copyright © 2011 Dean Wesley Smith
Because of the new world and technology, my magic bakery got a lot more valuable lately. This is now part of my inventory in my bakery. I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated. Once this book is done, I will send you a copy. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately really kept me going on this. Thanks!

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.

Thanks, Dean



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52 Responses to Chapter Seven: Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Writing is Hard

  1. David Barron says:

    This was by far my favorite Sacred Cows post when I first read it. “I sit alone, in a room, and make stuff up.” There’s just nothing about that sentence I didn’t like.

    I’ve actually written and published a couple books (and a bunch of short stories) between then and now, so I can confirm: Good times!

    Good times had by all.

  2. Just Passing Through says:

    Hmm. now this is a post that I could use. (What? the Sensei says. I thought you could use all of them. Actually, I can. Each one tells me something that I didn’t know or that I thought was true but turned out to be a myth). This one however, I don’t know. Something about it made me turn off my Bruce Lee tape and say, “Hmmm.”

    I think what it was was that you talked about the fun of writing. I could count on one hand the time that it’s been fun (and have probably three fingers left unaccounted for). I know that some of the times that I’ve written (hey, might as well admit it here and lay all the chips on the poker table as the mighty and handsome Poker Boy would) most of the time I spend thinking about writing and don’t do it, yet, the few times that I do I can get into a state for at least a little while. Of course that state doesn’t always last that long. Sometimes it’s because my fingers can’t keep up with my brain, but most of the times it’s because my thoughts get in the way of my fingers and heart. I will start to think things like no one will understand it, no one will want to read it, it’s not that good and needs to be better. Those thoughts, as well as the great big thoughts of: How do you expect this story to be good enough to make enough money to take care of your family and buy your mother a house and leave a legacy to all of mankind.

    Stuff like that will creep in in the middle of trying to figure out why your main character wants what he wants. So, I think that this post hit home because of what you said about Writing Can and I think you would even say NEEDS) To Be Fun. I don’t know why we make everything so damn complicated when it’s really not, but I think that is what has happened with writing (at least I know that it has happened with me when trying to write. I am my own worst enemy, or to put it in the words of Chuck Norris: I keep getting in my own way).

    So, after reading this post, hell, during reading the post, I started to think about the fun point. That writing can be fun. I would like to have that attitude, I really would. Heck, I can even admit that if I had to be tied down and forced to drink carrot juice unless I told them on of my heart’s desires I think one of ‘dem desires would be: I wish that I could write just because I want to write. Like Asimov did. Write because you want to write because it’s fun and not worry about the money (easy to say, hard to do since the world we live in revolves around money and one doesn’t want to end up standing in front of the McDonald’s asking, “Hey, buddy, can you spare some change?” Which you would think wouldn’t worry me that much coming from where I have, but I think those of us that come from the so called streets worry more about money because we remember when we didn’t have any of it, so I think that is where it comes in that your writing has to be brilliant and bring tears to the eyes of Stephen King and anything less than that simply won’t do. And even if you did write that kind of story you wouldn’t recognize it because something inside won’t allow it).

    So, basically, what did I want to say to you sir before this turned into the Dr. Phil show with special guest Oprah- that I liked the post and how you put the emphases on fun and I wouldn’t mind someday having that attitude and be able to simply write because I love it.

    • dwsmith says:

      Just Passing Through.

      Great comment. Thanks. And those voices you hear stopping you are, of course, critical voices from training and you know that. But knowing it and stopping those voices are two different things. (Sort of the plot of the most recent challenge story (grin))

      I have never understood people who say, “I hate writing.” Yet in the same breath say they want to be a professional writer. That’s just silly beyond words. I have, much to the disgust of my family and a couple of previous wives, refused to work at anything I didn’t like. I just wouldn’t do it. Early on (like the second month) of Kris and my relationship, I was in Wisconsin, had rented an apartment, but was running out of what little money I had left and needed a job. So I found one waiting tables. But they wanted me to wear a Tux. And the shift started at 7 in the morning. I got into that Tux, did one shift, and gave them back the Tux and quit. I liked waiting tables, but not that job. Not worth it. I would rather starve than do jobs I hate. (And yes, I was homeless for a time in my life, so I do understand.)

      I went back to Kris’s apartment and she looked at me and just laughed. She knew I would never make it in that Tux for long. I think this attitude is one of the things she likes about me. She has it also. (grin)

      So when someone hates writing, I tell them to just quit and find something they love, that they can be passionate about. The person may love reading and mistake that for a love of creating what they love to read. I have told numbers of people who confessed to hating writing to just go find their love and work at that.

      But that said, there is a difference between loving to write and shutting up the critical voice from your English professors, a bunch of failed writers who trained bitterness into you. Those critical voices just make writing a drain and a pain. Trust me, to really get to the love and fun, you first have to kick out all those voices who haunt you like bad ghosts. And how will you know when they are all gone? Easy. You will just not care anymore about what you write. Sure, you’ll still do your best and keep learning, but the pressure will be from the inside, because you want to learn how to have even more fun. Not because you’re afraid of not pleasing a person on the outside.

      Trust me, writing short stories for this web site has to be a labor of love and I have to not care if I just write a clunker. I have and I will. But as long as I am having fun trying to be an entertainer, then what all of you think of my fiction just doesn’t matter. I’m having fun.

  3. MJS says:

    As many have mentioned here, your seasoned insight, contribution, and energy has been invaluable for countless writers, particularly with ‘Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing’.

    I find myself still shaking off the last remnants of this particular myth, while begrudgingly aware of it. It normally only comes into play when I have what I call a mindplosion of an entire plot. It floods my head out of nowhere, yet the actual finger to keyboard result can’t keep up and it’s a jumbled mess not remotely close to the “inspiring” original.

    After banging away until my eyes cross (with the thing still screaming in my brain), herein is the point when I push back from the desk in irritation and feel myself going into the auto-programming of “damn this is hard, I have a freakin headache”. It’s not, not really. Compared to the outdoor construction I used to do, this is pie.

    Anyone else out there experience this? It’s always been the same for me–the entire story, characters, plot, each minute detail, is there in an instant and then starts quickly retreating. I grab it then, dropping whatever I’m in the middle of, or it’s gone into a vague, hazy outline. Again, all in the attitude and mindset and something to mold to my creative will, but any similar experiences and solutions would be interesting to hear.

  4. Tracey says:

    Ah yes, I think it’s because people believe you need to be talented writer to be a success, but as we know, talent is very overrated. People use it as an excuse for failing even to TRY.

    It’s the act of putting words on paper, fingers on keyboard (a tiny bit of luck, and a bit of marketing thrown in) that really creates a successful writer.

    Although I do have to say, as a nonfiction writer, that it isn’t quite as easy to just pump out the words as you’ve made it seem. Although I do wish I could just make stuff up too – now that WOULD be an awesome nonfiction book. Isn’t truth overrated as well?

    Great post, as always.


    • dwsmith says:

      Tracey, I did a myth post about talent. I’ll have it in the next section of the book. It tends to make people angry, so hang on, it will come past. (grin)

      And I agree, as a nonfiction writer, you have a different set of rules and just writing and making up stuff is not an option. (grin) Fiction is far more fun.

  5. Alex Fayle says:

    I love the change your attitude part. It’s so easy to convince ourselves that we don’t want to write when it’s the only thing we’re passionate about.

    I did that several times in my life and it’s one of the few regrets that I have – that I didn’t get started on my writing in a serious way more than a decade ago…

    But then again, now I’m getting started in a really cool period with lots of fun challenges!

  6. Martin Vavpotic says:

    After reading this post, I feel much better about myself. I actually get confident enough to get back to writing.

    Thank you, Dean.

  7. Silver Bowen says:

    Dean, I would be laughing right now if it wasn’t so early and the wife wasn’t still sleeping. I am going to have to disagree with you on this one. No, not that writing is hard. It isn’t. But I have personal experience that says you aren’t going far enough on this one.

    You see, when I was first starting out (a little less than three months ago), I stumbled on this series. I read all of them, in order, including all comments, as fast as I could, generally several a day. Everything you said made so much sense, I took it all to heart.

    Because I knew that writing wasn’t hard, that rejection was the price of admission, that finishing the current story and writing the next was the real goal, that criticism is best applied to that next story, I never had the first moment of doubt. Being a new writer is cake. No sweat.

    Write, submit until it sells (or self-publish), learn from comments, rinse and repeat. What other profession comes with such a simple template for success?

    I have finished 9 short stories so far. I have another four in various stages of completion, from just started to in need of final edits. I have two novels in progress (only three or four chapters each, so far.) The last few stories I think might have a slim chance of actually selling :)

    Every completed story is in submission somewhere, and most have racked up one or more rejections. My goal is to submit each of them until I run out of markets, and if that story hasn’t sold, time to put it up electronically. If nobody buys it, or I am massively embarrassed by it later on, I can always take it down, change pen-names, whatever.

    All this from a dead-stop, no writing experience but poetry, in my spare time. And I’m getting faster, better, more creative every day. The beginning is only hard if you let it be. All attitude.

    So, in summary, thanks for the great advice, you’ve probably saved me years of “struggle”. And any other newbies out there, make up your mind from day one that you are a pro, and skip the hard part. It’s working great for me.

    • dwsmith says:

      Silver, wow, thanks! But you are the one who got out of your own way and decided to go have fun and do the details of the submissions and such. And your plan sounds exactly like how I started and how my wife started and how Kevin J. Anderson started and Nina Kiriki Hoffman started and Ray Bradbury started and Harlan Ellison started and Robert Silverberg started and so on and so on. You are on track. Keep having fun. Thanks!

  8. Silver Bowen says:

    Also, MJS,

    Seriously consider getting a digital voice recorder. Spit it all out, and transcribe it when you’re done. You won’t lose nearly so much “mindsplosion.”

  9. Rob Cornell says:

    I went a long time not writing because I’d been beaten up by myths–especially ones about agents and rewriting. When I stumbled onto this blog, things started to change. And then indie-publishing exploded and I realized I could write what I thought was fun, not what I thought some agent or publisher thought they could sell.

    I’ve been having more fun writing now than I have since I started back in elementary school. And it shows in the writing, I think.

    But the critical voices still chatter every now and then. It takes a lot of *practice* to write without letting those voices get in the way.

  10. Joe Cleary says:

    Just Passing, I can relate to pretty much everything you said. The difference for me is that when I sit down and start writing, everything is better and I feel great. It’s while I’m trying to get myself to the chair that all those fears and voices constantly intrude.

    MJS, I suffered from that a bit last year when I first got back to trying to write after a long hiatus. I’d see the whole story I wanted in a flash and I’d run to sit down and try to write it all at once. Inevitably it wouldn’t be what I’d envisioned, and I’d run out of steam. I wouldn’t make it back to the keyboard for a week.

    The first solution I had was to let that creative rush be the outline. I’d grab a pen and a notebook and write it out longhand with hardly any details other than those that I believed were critical. Then, I’d take that outline and take it to the keyboard with me, where I’d write slower. It was a security blanket, I guess. I’m working through my first novel that way, using the 14 page longhand I wrote in a rush as a guide to what I had in mind.

    Since I’ve spent more consistent time at the keyboard, I’ve found I need the outline less and less. The last short story I wrote, which I’m working on covering and putting up for sale today, I wrote in an afternoon from the merest spark of an idea. I just took my time throughout the afternoon, taking breaks and letting the story come in spurts. I know I’m not a great judge of my own work, but this was the first story I didn’t feel like I had to revise to death. One run through for typos, and I took out one line that was based on the real life moment the story came from, but didn’t belong in the story in the end, and I was done.

    With the novel , I rarely refer to the outline, and most of the detail has changed. I think I’ve come to understand that the writing itself is organic, and the initial rush of idea pales next to the process of growth the story undergoes as you write it when you trust yourself and don’t force it to be what you thought it was. Characters do things and take on traits that initial idea could never have foreseen, and I think I do my best writing when I let them do it.

    It’s really about trusting yourself, believing, like Dean says, that writing is not hard, and that you’re brain knows more about the story than your conscious mind possibly can. Just let go and allow your hands the freedom to follow your brain without all that critical interference. See, even trying to make the story EXACTLY like that initial creative rush is working with the critical brain. Shut that sucker off and have fun.


  11. Lyn says:

    I think for me the intimidation factor is what I mistakenly take for hard work. For example, I’ve been reluctant to sit down and figure out Smashwords, KDP, and Pubit and so never did. Intimidated by 2 hours of reading directions! lol But thanks for the inspiration here, Dean. I published my first digital short story yesterday and it’s now on sale for 99c! :)

    • dwsmith says:

      Lyn, agreed, I think the intimidation factor is often mistaken for hard work. And learning always feels uncomfortable. Nature of the human beast. Congrats on getting that first story up. They get easier after that.

  12. John Walters says:

    One problem I have had recently that gives me the illusion that my writing is not going well is projecting personal life problems onto the writing. That is, when things are not flowing in one area thinking that things are not flowing in any. In fact, I have made a lot of progress in my writing lately; all I have to do is sit back and look at the statistics. But because I am struggling in other areas, it saps the joy out of the victories I am getting in my writing. Your post has reminded me that if I focus more on the writing and less on the other areas (not less on fixing the other areas but less on dwelling on the darkness doubt and despair) I can come out of this okay and intact. In fact, one advantage that a writer has is that any life experience, good or bad, can be story material. I always used to think like that, and so would chalk anything at all that happened as an advantage. Getting back to that mindset will go a long way to giving me more peace of mind.

    • dwsmith says:

      John Walters said, “One problem I have had recently that gives me the illusion that my writing is not going well is projecting personal life problems onto the writing.”

      Wow, spot on the money with that one, John. The nature of writing is that we play between our ears, coding stories in little black marks so that others can read our minds. And when our minds are cluttered and occupied with the problems of the real world, it’s really hard to put up walls against those problems and just have fun in another area. However, that said, many writers I know can just leave the planet and all their problems and go play in their own worlds inside their heads. In fact, some professional writers I know just don’t want to return to reality very often.

      Reality often sucks. Writing and playing in our made-up worlds inside our heads is fun. As it should be. But if the reality creeps into the make-believe, then you end up with bad horror movies.

  13. camille says:

    I think we are set up for this myth before we even learn to write. A little kid arrives at school carrying a beloved teddybear, and is informed by the other kids that that is baby stuff. After that, teddy stays home. The kid has just learned to be ashamed of what he loves.

    That happens again and again, and the truth is, even though our logical self may be acting like an editor, that’s not really what makes it hard and takes the joy out of it — it’s because that editor is working for a far older and less rational part of the brain which is not worried about whether it’s good writing, but whether it’s _cool_.

  14. I needed to read this post this morning. My sinuses are acting up, and there were two rejections in my email inbox. It was good to have the reminder that writing is fun. Telling stories is fun.

  15. Christian K says:

    Writing can be physically difficult, if you are “doing it” long hang with pen and paper. Yep, unfortunately for me, that’s how I roll.

    Time for my favorite rant of late: I have spent the last 15-20 years training by brain to only think critically when I am sitting at the computer. It’s given me a wonderful career in computer security, but makes writing at the computer hell. It’s like running a marathon with a pebble in my shoe. Sure, I can do it, but I’ll end up sore and probably sweaty (not the good kind). Yet, if I pull out the pen and paper the words just flow… until my arm is sore and I physically can’t go on.

    Writing isn’t hard. The stuff around it is hard. The discipline. The business. Finding a nice pen. “Dealing” with family or friends or laundry. In fact, all day long “writing” is the easiest thing I do.

    • dwsmith says:

      Christian, you are right, and as I said in the article, discipline and business are hard. No question from me at all. Heck, in this day of constant change, just keeping up with the business is hard, let alone understanding all of it.

  16. Nathan Pennington says:

    @Dean – Speaking of Wisconsin, if you ever find yourself and Kris in the southeast corner of the state for any reason, drop me a line.

    We can go grab a bite at a place where no tuxedos are worn. :-)


    • dwsmith says:

      Thanks, Nathan. Just never know. Great antiques and collectable malls in your area and Kris has family north of there. Just never know. (grin)

  17. Dayle says:

    Great post, Dean – thank you once again!

    I used to think I didn’t have any fears about writing…I’ve certainly never had a problem with sending things out. (I got my first professional rejection slip on my 16th birthday, and rejoiced because it meant I was a “real writer.”) But somewhere along the line, some fears crept in, and yep, they keep me from sitting down to write, or keep me from finishing things. Even when I love the project or the idea or the characters. Funny, that.

    The recent Short Story Workshop made me aware of some of those blocks/fears, so I’m looking forward to moving forward and overcoming them! :-)

    • dwsmith says:

      Dayle, glad the workshop helped. You wrote some great stuff here. Say hi to Ken for me. He is amazing and I am in awe.

  18. Another great chapter! And this weekend, I actually experienced this myth firsthand: a dear friend threw a party to celebrate the publication of my book. So there I was eating, drinking, signing and selling copies, having a ball. A very nice man asked me in all seriouness, “Did you find the writing painful?”

    I thought I misheard him. Painful?! Why on earth would I do it if I found it painful?

    It seemed important to him that the answer be yes, so I mumbled something cryptic about “flow.”

    Guess I need to brush up on my lying skills!

    • dwsmith says:

      Melissa, LOL! “Flow” is a great response to that sort of thing. I’ll have to remember that. Thanks.

      I have a bad response when someone starts into how hard writing is and how painful it is, I just tell them to stop. Sort of like the old joke about the patient and the doctor. “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” Doctor replies, “Then don’t do that.”

      Anyone who finds writing painful should find something else to do in their spare time like skateboarding or cliff diving or extreme skiing.

  19. Eric says:

    The magazines and New York editors are sending me so many rejections that they blot out the sun?

    Well… Then I will write in the shade! :)

  20. I had forgotten about this one. Thanks for the reminder. I used to hate writing. Back when it was hard and I was learning. Back when I was in university writing classes and was told I had to really suffer (you know, emotionally and physically – think child abuse, disease, emotional abuse, self abuse, anything that was a trauma) to ever write anything good. If you had fun writing or wrote fast the writing was crap. Yep, back then I hated writing.

    I don’t think I consciously realized that I now like to write – love to write. I’m comfortable in my skill level (though I know I will never stop learning) and I can shove those negative voices out of my head when they start whispering.

    I’m hoping one day I won’t have to consciously quiet the voices for most writing sessions. Please tell me there will be a day when those nasty voices will vacate the premises. :-)

    • dwsmith says:

      Angelia, oh, at times the voices will be gone, and you won’t notice them, and then one day you’ll wonder why you aren’t writing as much as you were and that things have gotten difficult and feel hard again and at that point you will realize the voices are back. (grin) I’m afraid they never go away. We just get better spotting them and we get better and shutting them out of our offices. But they tend to always be there in one form or another, like a bad weed in a garden we can’t get rid of completely.

  21. Mark says:

    “3) Make mailing manuscripts to editors or indie publishing them fun. Mailing and the game of trying to match the right manuscript with the right editor at the right house is fun.”

    I think it’s more fun to self-publish. Doesn’t take long to get a book up and long before your manuscript is even looked at by an editor your book is out earning you money.

    I probably have a myopic view, but I don’t read the magazines anymore and there are so many webzines (which I also don’t read) that the publication credits are meaningless to me. I have no trouble finding novels and short stories on Amazon/B&N, and I can sample also.

    I’m talking about shorter works, obviously. For novels there are a lot of good reasons to go traditional. I won’t argue against that.

    • dwsmith says:

      Mark, I agree that indie publishing is a ton more fun and a ton quicker. But the magazines these days have some great work in them and they don’t hold the rights to your story very long, so you can get the payment from the magazine, advertise your name to readers who may have not found it yet, and if they like your story in the magazine, they will find your indie published stories as well. In other words, selling a story to Asimov’s or Ellery Queen is having someone pay you good money for advertising all your indie work. It’s a win/win. And if I ever write a challenge story my wife things might be a good fit at one of the top magazines, it will got there first instead of up electronically first.

  22. Mark says:

    “In other words, selling a story to Asimov’s or Ellery Queen is having someone pay you good money for advertising all your indie work. It’s a win/win. And if I ever write a challenge story my wife things might be a good fit at one of the top magazines, it will got there first instead of up electronically first.”

    I agree with this. If you can sell a story to those markets, by all means do so. It can only help and they pay real money, not copies or a small token fee like $10.

    I guess the thing is the time it takes to submit to these top markets and then wait to hear back from them, along with the high percentage chance of being rejected. You submit and you may not hear back for three months. That’s three months you could have been selling.

    These markets typically accept what percentage of submissions? One percent? One tenth of one percent? It seems like you’re missing out on a lot of sales time hoping you’re that one in a hundred or one in a thousand.

    • dwsmith says:

      Mark, anyone who submits to magazines with a token fee or only copies deserve what they get in return. Nothing. Sorry, I’m a professional, I get paid for my writing. So I would never think of sending anything to one of those lower markets. No point.

      As for the money lost, here is the reality. DUCK, MORE MATH!!

      If a short story sells 5 copies total per month over all sites, and you have it up for 99 cents, you make about 40 cents average (again across all sites) per sale. So 5 x .40 = $2.00 per month electronic sales. (And through math explained on previous posts, another $3.00 per month from including in collections.) So total loss for a normal short story is about $5.00 income per month. $60.00 per year. So take one year, mail the story to three or four top markets. If the story is say 5,000 words, you could make $300-$500 for a sale. Plus all the free advertising for your other work.

      $60.00 plus postage gamble to get free advertising and $300-$500 return. Now to my poker playing mind, those are pretty good pot odds.

      But I won’t take that gamble unless my first reader tells me I have a good shot at the market. And considering that most of my stories are off into niche areas, that’s not many of my stories. However, that said, I have sold two stories this year so far to traditional markets. They will be out next year some time.

  23. “Angelia, oh, at times the voices will be gone, and you won’t notice them, and then one day you’ll wonder why you aren’t writing as much as you were and that things have gotten difficult and feel hard again and at that point you will realize the voices are back”

    Bummer. :-) But that makes since because sometimes my writing just flies and I think I’ve finally got it together and then I get derailed. You’re right, the voices have returned and I have to consciously tell them to shut up again and they aren’t nearly as obedient.

  24. James A. Ritchie says:

    I’ve been seriously chewed out by new writers, and even by old, experienced writers, because I say writing should be enjoyable.

    I’ve always said I write for two reasons. 1. Money. 2. Enjoyment.
    Take away either, and I’d find something else to do with my time. Life is simply too short to spend any of it doing something you hate.

    Before becoming a writer, I spent a lot of time at jobs such as baling hay, shoveling coal, digging ditches, and, in general, picking up heavy things here and sitting them down over there.

    That was hard work. But writing as hard work? Nope.

  25. Camille says:

    You know, I think there may be another place this myth is coming from: becoming a _published_ writer used to be hard.

    For that matter, being a successful indie writer is not just a matter of falling off a log.

    I think Dean said something earlier about needing to write a million words or something. (He included blog posts.) And “The Race” involved a LOT of writing. I remember being told to have a goal of getting at least 100 rejection slips.

    You have to read a lot, write a lot, and find markets and submit — a lot.

    I do think people tend to see things in black and white: if you try to tell them that being a successful writer may require more than writing one book and pricing it at 99 cents, they may only hear “writing is hard” and think you’re telling them to sweat blood over their keyboards.

    And Dean, when you tell them they should learn the business of being a publisher… that’s HARD.

    It reminds me of a story a coach used to tell: he coached both the women’s and men’s teams at something, and if he yelled at the team and said something like “Some of you are slacking off and out of shape” all the guys on the men’s team would stand up straighter and smile and look at each other as if to say “Yeah these other guys aren’t carrying their weight like I am.” And on the women’s team, even the stars of the team would hang their heads in shame, assuming he was talking to them personally.

    I suspect this story was an exaggeration of any gender differences, but it does apply to the difference in attitude in the lazy writer and the hard-working writer. You decry lazy writers, and the lazy writers don’t recognize themselves, and the hard-working writers take it personally. And both make different myths out of it.

    • dwsmith says:

      Camille, never argued that the business of writing isn’t hard. It is and it’s crazy-making with so many writers refusing to even learn basic business. Or thinking that business isn’t time they need to spend.

      But I don’t agree that learning how to indie e-pub a book is hard. It’s a learning curve at first, yes. But hell, it takes me about ten minutes to format my manuscript from standard manuscript format to epub format and get a story on Kindle, Pubit, and Smashwords. Maybe 15 minutes to do a cover now. I may not be great at it, but it certainly isn’t hard. Learning how to do it was a learning curve and I guess some people equate learning with hard, but I love learning so much, I’m not one of them.

      But doing the business. Yup, that’s hard at times and work at times and annoying beyond words at times.

  26. L. M. May says:

    Hey Dean,

    This is such an important essay of yours since mindset is so critical to success for writers. Your post and the comments got me thinking about ways to shut up the inner critic, so I blogged about one method I just learned in case it helps other writers.

    Really looking forward to getting my copy of the book once all the chapters are edited.

    • dwsmith says:

      L.M., that’s really good. I like that. Folks, go read what L.M. wrote about shutting up your inner critic. Nifty.

  27. Camille says:

    Not arguing with you so much as pointing out one of the places the myth is coming from. People are pretty all or nothing when it comes to effort.

    Somebody throws up one novel which they didn’t even proofread and no cover, and they price it at 99 cents and wait for the bucks to roll in. And they wonder what went wrong.

    And other say “look, dude, you’ve got to put in some effort here. Write more. Treat this as a business if you want to make money.”

    And yes, I admit I have used “learn how to write” as a euphemism for “learn how to spell and construct coherent sentences.”

    You said it yourself above, learning is “uncomfortable” and I would say that learning is difficult. It can be fun, but it is difficult. It’s like working out. You can do calisthenics all day long and not actually work as hard as one fun game of frisbee with your dog or friends. The only reason you don’t call the game “work” is because it was fun. But doing it without the fun… it’s work.

    So I’m not arguing with you about the myth, really. I’m just saying that one of the reasons for its existence is that so many ‘writers’ need to be told to get off their duff. And others, who are already off their duff, hear it and think it means THEY need to do more.

  28. Just Passing Through says:

    I remember reading an article with Michael Michael Crichton where he talked about him hating the act of writing, but he had to do it because it was his career.
    I remember reading an article that said J.D. Salinger had a safe deposit vault full of finished novels that would never see the light of day.
    I know that when I think about writing for the masses I begin to doubt.
    I know that the few times I have written a story and been in the heart of it, with fingers flying and my imagination being stoked like a train’s furnace, I never cared about anyone else or anything else at that moment. It was simply fun.
    Do I think I love writing? Certainly not like Mr. King or yourself.
    Do I think I could fall in love with writing like the woman who is not the “10” in the eyes of the world but you see her heart, her soul and the way she tilts her head when she’s about to bust your balls? Yeah. I think I could.
    Can I get the voice of my forefathers yelling at me that it’s not about fun it’s about the money out of my head? I don’t know.
    Can I get the voice of perhaps myself screaming at me that in the end it’s about having fun because you deserve it and that the silver lining in all of that is that it really is like Rod Steiger said: Do what you love, the money will follow (and I would assume that would include doing that what you fell into and then fell in love with)? Honestly, at this moment in time I have no idea, but it sure would be nice to write for the sheer fact that you get a kick out of creating wonderment out of thin air.
    I guess when you break it down it all comes down to: Get busy writin’ or get busy not writin’. (with apologies to Mr. King).
    Thanks for letting me chew your ear, sir.

  29. James A. Ritchie says:

    It’s been my experience that becoming a published writer was never very hard, either, assuming you did away with the myths, and simply followed each of Heinlein’s Rules to the letter.

    • dwsmith says:

      James, I agree, it is fairly easy to become a published writer if you follow Heinlein’s Rules and focus on learning and getting better as you do. But most myths do their best to stop a writer from following Heinlein’s Rules. Those darn rules are so simple, but so difficult for most people. But they worked great for me as well.

  30. James A. Ritchie says:

    Dean, I think the seeming simplicity of Heinlein’s Rules is what throws most writers. They believe there must be more to it than what Heinlein says. But all he really did was set up business rules that, if you follow them, get rid of most of the myths.

    I believe the best breakdown of these rules comes from Robert J. Sawyer. He points out, as Heinlein originally did, that fifty percent of all who try writing will fall out on each rule. I believe every new writer, and many experienced ones, would benefit greatly from reading Sawyer’s post on the subject. His breakdown can be found here:

    • dwsmith says:

      James, I had not read that wonderful article by Rob. He is spot on. The business rules of Heinlein are so, so simple on the surface, and everyone I have met who has actually followed those business rules are now called Professional Writers. But I think Rob’s number might be generous. I think it might be closer to only one out of one hundred make it through each rule. Considering the number of people who say or think they want to be writers, his just cutting it to one out of a hundred is high from my observation. I think the ability to follow Heinlein’s Business Rules is more like one out of a few hundred thousand. At least for the length of time needed to make it work. Those rules are so simple. They are so difficult for almost anyone to follow because of the myths. Thanks for pointing out Rob’s great article. I had missed it.

  31. Just Passing Through says:

    A quick one on Mr. Heinlein’s rules: Yes, you could say that most writers don’t follow them, but I think another reason that some of the other writers don’t follow them is that if you type in Heinlein’s Rules you get almost a thousand different writer’s with their interpretations of what he “meant” (especially the never rewrite part). Sensei Smith is the only one that I’ve read that says follow the rule exactly: Don’t Rewrite.

    Question Sensei: Was talking to a friend today about the whole Kindle publishing (and ebooks in general) and they asked about the taxes situation. Will you be writing a chapter in your Think Like a Publisher series about beginning self publishers and how they handle adding what they sell with their taxes?

    • dwsmith says:

      Just Passing Through… As for Heinlein’s Rules, Heinlein meant what he wrote. Harlan does not rewrite, Bradbury does not rewrite, non of the Pulp writers you still read today rewrote. If a writer doesn’t really want to follow the business guidelines that Heinlein set out, then that writer becomes just another statistic of the writers who can’t follow five simple business guidelines. As Heinlein said about them. They are very simple, very few can follow them.

      As for taxes, nope, not a tax accountant, every state is different. Not a word from me on that subject. I just don’t know enough to speak on it. Sorry.

  32. Just Passing Through says:

    That’s cool, sir. (I do totally understand on the “not a word” as unfortunately we live in a world where one person asks for advice on something, takes said advice, said advice doesn’t work out for the person and before you know it the person who gave the advice is caught up in more junk than Sanford and Son. Sad, but that’s the way it work. Thanks anyway though and your still cool in my book.)

    Hmm, thinking about that makes me wonder if that is why we don’t have mentors anymore. Because it’s too tough for people to take a chance anymore? Hmm, that is something I will have to ponder later.

  33. Just Passing Through says:

    PS- I’ve just spent the last three hours doing research on taxes and the self publisher and so forth. Geesh! I hate agents, but after my eyes started spinning and the drool began to come out while reading every little section and sub section, I can say that if an agent came up to me and said, “Hey, don’t worry. Sign with me and I’ll take care of everything”, well… I still wouldn’t do it because Sensei Smith would kick my arse all over Hell’s creation! (smiles)

    (But I know understand why one of the earlier writers that I read said the first rule of being a writer: Get a great accountant!)

  34. Bélier says:

    Here’s a link to a french translation of this article :

  35. Jaenii says:

    Christian K, I write long hand too. Wow! Thought I must be the only one. I’ve typed directly into the computer in the past, but currently need the feel of the pen in my hand to shut down the critical voices in my head.

    Dean, thank you so very much for these articles. I’ve always thought of myself as a slow writer. And I did used to be slow, really slow. But I’ve gotten faster over the years. And I’m realizing from your posts, that I can get even faster. I think it was mostly fear dragging at my word count. And definitely dragging at my fun count!

    I’ve just finished my first novel and plan to e-publish it. My first reader is looking at it now. And, inspired by all the amazing information and insight you share here, I decided I didn’t want to waste any time while waiting! So I dove into a short story today. It’s about half done, and I will finish it tomorrow. That way I can practice the uploading technical stuff on a shorter piece.

    I’m still mulling over what my publisher name will be, so that may delay me another day or two. Not longer.

    I’m realizing that maybe I really can DO this! Never truly believed that before. Despite the completed novel. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’d have tripped and fallen hard on several of the myths, if I’d not stumbled onto your site.

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